Saturday, 30 August 2014

642 Things - I Was Warned

     I picked up a new book recently, called 642 Things to Write About, which does what it says in the title. It contains hundreds of writing prompts, which I plan to use and post on here. So here’s the first…

“The one your mother warned you about”

     I was captivated. Completely and utterly overwhelmed and captivated by him. The lithe body I constantly yearned to run my hands over, the silky soft hair whose scent stayed with me, the deep voice that echoed in my dreams, and the eyes, eyes I could drown in forever. He was everything. Charming, intelligent, funny, kind, confident, perfect. Everything I thought I ever wanted or needed, consuming my thoughts for every second of every day.

     He told me he loved me. Told me I was the most important person in his life, that I was special and wonderful and amazing and that he needed me more than anything else. And I believed him. I drank in every word, as if it were oxygen and I were dying. I thought I would die without him.

     But I didn’t. He’s gone and I’m still here, my heart lying on the floor, splintered and ripped to shreds. Still breathing, even though the pain in my chest feels like it could strike me down at any second. Still waking up each morning thinking about him, only to be left crushed and shaking when I remember the truth.

     The truth is he’s a liar. A liar, a cheater, a heartless, cold betrayer. Every word he ever said was just that; words. Words that seemed so beautiful and heartfelt at the time, but are now twisted and cruel, lies that dripped so easily from his mouth. Words that were empty of any real emotion. He was too charming, too intelligent and too confident. A lethal combination. But one that I never saw coming.

     Everyone else did though. That’s the real kicker. Everyone else tried to tell me, tried to warn me that he was too good to be true. My mother was his greatest opponent, condemning him instantly as a charmer who would only break my heart. But of course I didn’t listen. I thought we had a great love, one that could withstand everyone’s doubts. I rebelled against my parents and defended him against every slanderous comment.

     How wrong was I? They were all right and I was wrong, and now here I am trying to piece together the broken remnants of my heart. Too blinded by the attention and affection he showed for me to see the truth. I was warned and I did listen and now everything has fallen apart.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Edinburgh Fringe - Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare

     The Fringe might be over now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve blogged about everything I saw yet! Last week I went to see a show called Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare, which is a Shakespeare play performed with one of the actors being drunk. This year it ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ (plot summaries are in the programme, for those of us who aren’t Shakespeare experts) and Julia was the somewhat intoxicated character.

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     Overall, the show was hilarious, as drunken antics are nearly always pretty amusing. At times, it did feel as though the levels of intoxication were being exaggerated or put on a bit, but given the nature of the performance, this is pretty necessary in order to ensure a good show. I liked that Julia’s microphone was left on even when she was off-stage, as she provided some very funny commentary during other scenes. Of course, when one actor is not performing the play correctly, the others have to respond to this. I liked that they acknowledged and played upon her drunkenness, adding in extra lines and comments, rather than ploughing on regardless of it. While it is a scripted play, there is a small amount of improv required when dealing with an actor who continually goes off-book, and the play has to be condensed to keep it within an hour’s length, and the rest of the cast cope pretty well with all of this.

     There could be some health and safety concerns in a show like this, but they are addressed early on to waylay any worries. There is someone on hand to monitor and control the drunk actor, stepping in at times to prevent her from going too far. However, this same person is also responsible for giving her more drinks, when an audience member sounds one of their designated props (two are handed out at the start). I liked this idea, as it means the other actors aren’t having to control the drunk one, and this person adds some more humour of her own.

     While the same play is performed every night, the show is different each time, as different characters are chosen to get drunk, and their behaviour will be different every time, making it very possible to go more than once without getting tired of repetition. There is clearly a lot of skill involved in this production - it’s not as easy as just getting drunk! - and the end result is highly entertaining. It probably won’t be for everyone - Shakespeare buffs beware! - but I had a very enjoyable night.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Review - Twin Atlantic: Great Divide

     Big, bold & stunning. I had high hopes for Twin Atlantic’s newest record, given how much I adore their last, 2011’s ‘Free’. However, the lead single from Great Divide (click for Amazon link), Heart & Soul, was not one that I instantly loved and therefore had me somewhat nervous for the new release. Fortunately, this track has grown on me considerably and the rest of the album has proved to be something quite special.


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    Twin Atlantic have managed to concoct something that still retains their signature sound and style that existing fans know and love, but have also built on this to stretch their musical muscles a bit. There’s a nice mix of high energy, faster songs and big, slow-building numbers, both executed fantastically. The album opening, The Ones That I Love, is a gentle start, soft and slow, before leading straight into several more upbeat sounding tracks that flow together nicely.

     Musically, the guitars are the prevailing instrument on this record, being used to create big, epic sounds, capturing emotions from love to aggression and everything in between. There’s beautiful melodies in slower tracks like Rest In Pieces and Oceans, fast and dynamic riffs in I Am An Animal and Cell Mate and a truly stunning solo in Be A Kid. Their sound has been cleaned up a bit in comparison to earlier works, but still holds on to the rawness that I love about their music. Lyrically, the album appears to be very honest, talking a lot about the human condition and growing up and life constantly changing, with Be A Kid summing up the album’s overall themes. It’s certainly not an ode to “sunshine and daisies” at any rate. Why Won’t We Change? talks of our failure to fix society’s problems, It’s Not Dead is an adamant defence of rock music, while my personal favourite track of the whole album, Brothers & Sisters, explores how we lose touch with people as our lives move on.

     Overall, it’s a cracking record, which I’ve been playing on repeat since getting my hands on it. It’s big and brave and unapologetic, and is that great mix of holding on to the band’s roots while continuing to develop and mature musically. The nerves I had leading up to this release have been removed entirely, and I’m also quite sure it will sounds just as good live, in venues that match the record’s size. Quite simply, it’s an excellent album.


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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Edinburgh Fringe - The Noise Next Door

    Another Fringe show to tick off my wish list for this year. The Noise Next Door are an improv group whose show is made up of lots of sketches and songs. I saw them last year, when they had 2 shows, their main one (‘Soundhouse’) and their comedy lock-in. I saw ‘Soundhouse’ so this year it was the lock-in’s turn, and having thoroughly enjoyed them last year, I had high hopes for the show this year as well. Fortunately, I was not disappointed!

     I’ve found that there are some great improv acts out there, and others that aren’t quite as good. The Noise Next Door are excellent, in my opinion, as they are constantly taking audience suggestions, from fairly normal to entirely bizarre, and creating something hilarious from them. The quick-thinking required in improv is there in abundance, along with the degree of intelligence needed to make something out of even the most obscure references and suggestions. The nature of their show, involving lots of short scenes, means that audience suggestions are taken almost continually (unlike other shows who create a longer story from only a few contributions at the start) and therefore proves that they are coming up with everything entirely on the spot.

     The other great thing about improv is that you’ll never see the same show twice. Obviously there has to be some loose formatting and ideas behind their sketches, so I found myself recognising some of them, such as the skit involving one member being glued to something. However, the suggestions are entirely different every time so I found that this didn’t matter in the slightest. I also like that they use songs in the show too, which must be even harder to make up on the spot, and there’s even a live guitar to prove that they really can stay on their toes.

     The unique thing about their lock-in is that every night there are two stand-up comedians in as guests, who each perform a short set and then take part in some of the games and sketches. This is a great way to discover new acts you may not have gone to see otherwise, but as everyone’s tastes differ it can be a bit of a hit-or-miss scenario. The night I went they had Romesh Ranganathan first, who I’ve seen before on Mock the Week, and who I think is good but is certainly not one of my favourite comedians. Then, there was Marcel Lugont, one I’d never heard of before, but rather enjoyed. He perpetuates the French stereotype, and seeing as myself and my friend are both French students, we found this hilarious. The improv skills of different guests will also vary, but I thought both guests coped rather well.

     Overall, I found myself in fits of laughter for the entire show. It was strange and crazy at times, but, like the performers themselves, no one ever knew what was coming next. I would highly recommend it, and most definitely go back to see it again if possible. Hilarious every time.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Outfit of the Day - Doing It Different

     This isn't a particularly unusual outfit in the grand scheme of things, but it is a little different for me. This top was given to me as a gift and is not something that I would have ever picked up myself. However, I've found I rather like it, once I found a way to style it - skater skirts and boots being firm favourites of mine. This reminds a me that it's good to try new, different things from time to time, as you may be surprised by the results. I wore it for a night out recently, so my leather jacket is my usual choice for the outer layer.






Top - LaRedoute, Jacket - Topshop, Skirt - New Look,
 Boots - Even & Odd (Zalando), Earrings - Gift, Ring - Market

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Edinburgh Fringe - The Only Way Is Downton

     This was a show that I wanted to see last year having heard many good reviews about it, but didn’t have the time to go to. I think the time I tried to get tickets it was sold out already. However, this year it’s back so I made sure to go see what all the fuss was about. And it certainly lived up to the hype!

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     The Only Way Is Downton is a one-man impressionist show, in which Luke Kempner moves seamlessly between characters. The story revolves around Downton Abbey, but also dips into other popular shows such as The X Factor, The Great British Bake Off and Pointless. The only critique I would have (and it isn’t really a critique at all, just something true of all impressions) is that if you aren’t familiar with Downton Abbey and its characters, you may not find it as entertaining. I’m a fan of the show though, so I thoroughly enjoyed this.

     First of all, the impressions were spot on. I was able to easily recognise and distinguish between all the characters, as Kempner provided different accents and mannerisms for them all. The Dowager Countess, Lady Mary and Andy Murray were some of my personal favourites. The storyline was also great though, cleverly interweaving the different shows and throwing in references to the fact that they are just TV shows. The humour and the way the jokes were written was excellent as well, leaving me in fits of giggles during the whole performance.

     I went with a friend who saw the show last year, and she assured me that while some things remained the same, there were plenty of new elements to it, meaning she was able to enjoy it greatly and not feel like she knew exactly what was coming up next all the time. She also said she felt it was better this year, the additions having enhanced the show.

      This show is different to others I’ve seen at the Fringe before, given that I tend to go for stand-up comedians and improvised acts much of the time. I wasn’t very sure what to expect or whether I would enjoy it, but now I’m very glad that I went. The show was hilarious, and Kempner is very talented at what he does and has created something that I feel is quite unique in amongst the throngs of other Fringe acts. A definite recommendation, for Downton Abbey fans in particular.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Outfit of the Day - Drifting Along

    Some days you just want to drift through life, putting in the minimal effort possible. However, I've found that this doesn't necessarily mean you can't dress nicely while doing so. This outfit took seconds to throw together, but little touches keep it interesting. A shirt over a plain vest, a comfy pair of jeans and these elegant ankle boots, which are becoming my summer staple, are all casual but still create a nice effect overall. And a few small pieces of my market-bought jewellery finishes everything off.





Shirt - H&M, Top - LaRedoute, Jeans - New Look
Boots - Ziga (Zalando), Bracelet & Ring - Unknown, Necklace - Market
Nail Polish - 'Blackjack' by Collection

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Scotch Whisky Experience

    It's a common occurrence that no one ever goes to see the sights in their own town. This is certainly true for me, as I had seen very few of Edinburgh's sights, at least before working at summer camp, which has involved visiting quite a few. The other day though, myself and a friend from work went to visit the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile.


     The first part of the experience is an interactive ride in a barrel through the distillery process, with a 'ghostly guide' projected on the walls explaining everything to you. It's pretty interesting and a slightly different way of doing things, although I was mostly entertained by the novelty of sitting in the barrel.



     Naturally, we got to taste some whisky, but first they explained the differences in taste and smell between each region whiskies are produced in. This allowed everyone to choose which whisky to try, so hopefully you'd enjoy it more. Our tasting was explained in a room containing a collection of over 300 unopened whiskies, which was quite a sight to behold. I also found a large selection which share my surname!


     We had chosen the Gold Tour option, which meant we got to try 4 additional drams at the end of the tour, one from each region (we tried a blended at the earlier tasting). We did this sat by a window overlooking the city, so it was a pretty pleasant way to spend part of the afternoon. I'm glad I did the Experience with my friend (who is not from the area) as I probably wouldn't have otherwise. It was also really nice to spend an afternoon with her away from camp and the kids!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Edinburgh Fringe - Showstoppers

     The Edinburgh Fringe is in full swing, which means the city is heaving with tourists and performers and there’s an inescapable buzz in the atmosphere. For someone living and working in the city, like me, it can get pretty irritating at times, but there’s no doubting how unique and exciting the city is during August. And it’s great when I have time off now and then to go try to catch some shows.

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     I went to see Showstoppers the other night, a group who improvise a musical from scratch before your eyes. I saw them last year, and they were very good, but I enjoyed this year’s even more. The format of the show is basically the same – one man receives a call asking him to come up with a new musical, he takes audience suggestions for the setting, musical influences and title, then throughout the show he pauses the performance to explain what he has written next, and of course the rest of the group must follow suit. This year I witnessed “Tonight We Dance in Hell”, set in the Spartan gypsy underworld and featuring songs inspired by The Sound of Music, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Sagon.

     I’ve seen improv shows that allow for more audience suggestions than this one (though we did also provide poets to inspire a love poem written on the spot), but this is understandable as the musical has to have a plot and steer towards an ending in a short space of time. The performers do fling in their own weird and wonderful ideas though – we had characters named Syphilis and Chlamydia and Spartans who were oddly reminiscent of cowboys, hoedowns and all. They also manage to put clever connections in to the plot and even worked the play’s title in to a song. The actors are not only exceptionally fast thinkers to create the story, but also hilariously funny and quick-witted, bouncing off each other’s retorts.

     We also shouldn’t forget to praise the musicians, who compose the accompaniments to each song on the spot, listening to each other and the performers and creating something really very impressive. Occasionally a performer would hesitate slightly or break character to laugh at something said, but this doesn’t detract from the performance at all. In fact, it reminds you that this is being improvised, and therefore just how good what they’re doing is. I would recommend this show to anyone – they even have a kids’ version on in the day – and you could go several times over and never see the same show twice. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

Musically Inspired - Exaggerated Enjoyment

     Best Day EVER! We do have a tendency to exaggerate don’t we? I think everybody is guilty of this at one time or another. Superlatives and exclamations roll off our tongues so easily and if we were to take them all literally then our lives would be infinitely more exciting than they are in reality.

Best Day Ever
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     Hyperbole is a part of human expression. Our language has evolved to be full of metaphors and idioms and clichés, which are not meant to be taken literally. They are means of expressing sentiments that are too big and abstract and complicated to be explained in literal terms. Humans have emotions that are so far beyond complicated that we cannot even begin to rationalise and explain them much of the time, so we have found alternative methods of expression. We go so far as to use art forms like music and painting to express what we cannot put into words. And therefore, when we do use language, it has to be different and metaphorical to even attempt to describe what we are feeling.

     So we don’t have to be accurate and literal all the time. Yes, we might be stretching the truth when we make these declarations, but perhaps they are merely a reflection of our emotional states. If any little thing brings us happiness, then we should celebrate it. The world has some pretty gloomy aspects to it, so we should relish the things that bring us pleasure. Not everything can be the best thing ever of course, but in that particular moment it might seem to be, especially if life has been getting you down up until that point.

     The little things in life are just that – little. But if we add them all up they become significant portions of our time and without them our days would seem pretty mundane and pointless. We have the capacity as humans, to see beauty all around us, in all sorts of different manifestations. Anything from a child’s laughter, to a postcard from a friend, to the first sip of a cold beer can put a smile on someone’s face. Optimism is such a valuable trait, given the present state of the world we live in.

     So embrace happiness and positivity, and relish the moments that make you happy. The simple things are what make our daily lives more bearable. Realistically, not every day can be the best one ever, but say it anyway!

Song: 'Best Day of My Life' - American Authors

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Review - Guardians of the Galaxy

     Being a massive Marvel film fan, I have high expectations for each of their new films, so of course it was no different this time around. I’m not a comic book reader though, so I don’t have the background knowledge of each character that others may be aware of. That being said, Guardians Of The Galaxy (Amazon link) is a pretty great watch for anyone.

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     ‘Guardians’ does a lot of things right, and can stand up alongside all the other Marvel films released so far. The action sequences and special effects are superb (although I didn’t really notice the 3D) which is especially important given that next to nothing occurs on Earth, which has been the primary location for the previous Marvel films so far. Their universe has expanded out into the galaxy, giving us new planets and races to see, and has the feel of a Star Wars inspired space opera in many ways. The humour in the film is also on point, and kept things grounded to prevent it from becoming melodramatic or clichéd. I found myself alternating between a racing pulse and hysterical laughter, and heightened emotions are always a sign of a good film. The soundtrack is also great, combining epic orchestral scores with the songs of "Awesome Mix Vol. 1" that are so important to Peter Quill and his earthly origins.

     The characters had many great qualities, which is important when so many new ones were being introduced at once (unlike the Avengers who had stand-alone films first). The Guardians have all the qualities of heroes – bravery, intelligence, goodness – but are also selfish, aggressive and very funny. They are not traditional heroes, but step up when it is required of them. I would have liked to know a little more about their back stories, seeing as I haven’t read the comics, and their character development was very predictable, but they were likeable protagonists. I think Chris Pratt as the lead, Peter Quill a.k.a Star Lord, in particular, is utterly fantastic, equally comedic and heroic, and key to what makes this film so great.

     The villains of the story are also excellent. Ronan is utterly terrifying, and this exudes from every aspect of his demeanour – I particularly liked his first scene, where he appears to be dressing for war and we see his power and determination on display here, and throughout the film. Nebula is also a strong villain, fearsome and malevolent. Her character arc is interesting too, especially in comparison to her sister Gamora’s, and I’d like to see more of her progression in the future.

     Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is a thoroughly enjoyable film. Action, drama, humour and romance are all present in a great roll call of characters, and the cinematic effects are flawless. It fits in with the existing Marvel films, but is definitely still unique and can stand on its own. And of course, it paves the way for more films in the future and drops hints about what they may have in store for us – something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Thanos by any means…


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